Just Another Guy with Opinions

Apple Wants DRM-Free Music

Posted by shadmia on February 9, 2007


In a surprising move Steve Jobs the CEO of Apple Inc. suggested that DRM (copy protection software) should be removed from music sold online. He said that ditching DRM is “clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat”. He is joined in this sentiment by Dave Goldberg, the music manager at Yahoo! who has repeatedly called for the removal of DRM. Real’s Rob Glaser said that “DRM-free purchases is an idea in ascendance and whose time has come.”

The EFF(Electronic Freedom Foundation) an online consumer advocacy group “agreed wholeheartedly with Jobs” and even went one step further in suggesting that Apple remove the DRM on the independent label content in the iTunes Store:

We agree wholeheartedly with Jobs, since EFF has been making exactly the same points for several years now. As a first step in putting his music store where his mouth is, we urge him to take immediate steps to remove the DRM on the independent label content in the iTunes Store. Why wait for the major record labels? Many independent labels and artists already recognize that DRM is a dumb idea for digital music, as demonstrated by the availability of their music on eMusic. Apple should let them make that music available without DRM in the iTunes Store now.There are also bigger lessons here for policymakers. The harm done by DRM could be reduced by reforming the DMCA to allow the evasion of DRM for lawful purposes. Moreover, Jobs’ remarks are another reason for policymakers to reject proposed government DRM mandates, which would only serve to further harm innovation, consumers, and artists. Clearly what’s needed in the digital music world is less, not more, DRM.

This has put Steve Jobs squarely in the camp of those opposing the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) which uses DRM to protect its music from piracy. In response to the challenge by Jobs the Association fired back saying that Apple should open up its anti-piracy technology to its competitors:

Doing so, argued Mitch Bainwol, chairman and chief executive of the Recording Industry Association of America, would eliminate technology hurdles that prevent music fans from buying songs at Apple’s iTunes Music Store and playing them on devices other than the iPod.

“We have no doubt that a technology company as sophisticated and smart as Apple could work with the music community to make that happen,” Bainwol said in a statement.

The major record labels – Universal Music Group, EMI Music, Sony BMG Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group – control some 70 percent of the music market and have maintained that DRM safeguards are needed to stave off rampant piracy.

Most industry analysts agree that DRM is hurting digital music:

“Clearly, DRM is not working,” said Ted Schadler, an analyst at Forrester Research. “It sends a message to the customer that ‘we don’t trust you.”‘

Phil Leigh, senior analyst at Inside Digital Media, suggested removing copy restraints would give the labels’ music more exposure.

“Digital music has entered the mainstream,” Leigh said. “The restrictions (the labels) require Apple and others to carry are preventing the market from developing to its full potential – it’s retarding the growth.”

Some however question the motives behind Jobs’ statement. The iTunes store which sells music only for iPod users, because its built in DRM prevents other music players from playing those songs, has come under criticism in many European countries. They have been pressuring Apple to open up its iTunes store to manufacturers of other digital music players. Apple has so far resisted this. Steve Jobs could be trying to deflect the sentiment that Apple is engaging in monopolistic and anti-competitive behavior.

Columnist John C. Dvorak says: Jobs is no idiot and after already proving that selling music online is a money-maker you’d think the big labels would pay some attention to him when he tells them to get off this DRM nonsense. He argues that the music industry is strangling itself.

According to Boldrin and David K. Levine, both professors of economics in Arts and Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis:

“Imposing copyright protection and anti-piracy restrictions, such as the DRM software, on this flourishing economic activity is a costly, silly and eventually useless tentative to block economic progress. To preserve the old rents of a few incompetent people who cannot, or are not willing to, adapt to the new ways of doing business is not the goal of a good property right legislation.

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